Opinion

Ask Rustin: Waiting on Soler, timing the market, and Mike Moustakas’ workload

Kansas City Royals outfielder Jorge Soler.
Kansas City Royals outfielder Jorge Soler. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Before the mailbag, a brief plug: If you haven’t watched Danny Duffy on Thursday’s episode of True Blue Live, you can do so here. Danny and I covered a number of topics, including Kansas City, his hometown of Lompoc, a fan who sent him a strange potato, and his season thus far.

We also talked about the increased usage of his change-up and his velocity, which is down a tick this season. In 2016, Duffy’s four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph, while his two-seamer averaged 94.4, according to Pitch f/x data. This year, Duffy’s four-seam fastball is down to 92.9 mph while his two-seamer is sitting at 93 mph. It’s still early, of course, and Duffy believes his velocity will return. Sometimes pitchers go through “dead arm” periods, he said. And while he didn’t want to classify his issue as such, he does think he’ll emerge from this current phase and see his fastball hit its old velocity.

The song recommendation of the week is “Super 8” by Jason Isbell, who is playing Friday night at the Uptown Theater as part of Middle of the Map Fest.

OK, onto the mailbag.

Soler, who is recovering from a strained oblique muscle, entered Friday batting .308/.400/.538 in 11 games at Omaha. He began his rehab assignment on April 21 and can remain there until May 10. There are a couple things at play here: The Royals want to be cautious with Soler because of his injury history. They want him to get more reps in the outfield before making his Royals debut. And after a slow start in spring training, they also want to get him comfortable at the plate. In short, they didn’t want to rush him.

So they’ve practiced patience. By waiting an extra week, they also got an extended look at Jorge Bonifacio, who may have to return to Omaha when Soler is activated. There may yet be room on the roster for Soler and Bonifacio, who has cooled a bit, going hitless in his last three games.

The Royals entered a weekend series with the Cleveland Indians at 9-18. If the offensive trends continue, the question of selling will hang over the season until it happens. This is reality. But with just less than three months until the trade deadline, there’s no sense in rushing.

Yes, you theoretically could trade five months of a position player, instead of two or three, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a larger or better haul in return. For one, there aren’t many buyers out there right now. And more teams could be motivated to buy or go all-in in late June or July, sensing the opportunity to strike while their window is open. Get two or three teams in desperate need of help at third base or in the bullpen, and all of a sudden, the market increases.

This is an inexact science, which is to say there’s no perfect answer. The best hope for the Royals, if they end up in sell-mode, is not timing it right, but rather matching up well with the teams in contention.

Baseball is unpredictable. There is a large amount of statistical variance in a sample size of 25 to 30 games. But I also think the increased parity in baseball — the revenue-sharing models, the emphasis on young and cheap talent — has made it more difficult for teams to contend year after year. Nearly all teams are run by very competent and smart people. And thus, the window to compete and the natural life cycle of contending teams can seem more sped up, if that makes sense. In other words, life comes at you fast.

The Royals said before the season that they were going to take it easy on Moustakas during the month of April. He did tear an important ligament in his knee last May. For the most part, they have stuck to that plan. He’s started 20 games at third base and three at DH. He’s played in 25 of the Royals’ 27 games. I would expect that he gets fewer days off as the calendar moves forward.

Brandon Moss entered Friday hitting .167/.253/.348. That’s not good. He’s also owed more than $11 million on a two-year contract, signed in the offseason. Not ideal, either. That number includes $7.25 million salary in 2018 and a guaranteed $1 million buyout. So, yes, I expect Brandon Moss to be on the roster at the end of 2017. Kendrys Morales was quite awful for a few months last season. In fact, his numbers on May 5, 2016 (.200/.248/.310) were worse than Moss’s are right now. The calculus on Moss could change if he’s still hitting .167 in August or September. But he has a track record to suggest he won’t stay this bad for that long.

Public service announcement: It’s really, really hard to lose 100 games. The first Royals team I ever covered on a day-to-day basis was the 2009 team. After an 18-11 start, they lost 74 of their next 107 games to fall to 51-85. They were awful. Everybody got hurt. They still managed to avoid 100 losses. They finished 65-97.

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